How a trip to the grocery store can be a tool for sustainability

·3 min read

About 90% of people in Burlington live 1,500 steps from the nearest grocery store, according to Net Zero Vermont. The organization is using these numbers to encourage people to walk for groceries in a program called Walk to Shop. How exactly are they doing this? Through green grocery trollies.

The program is campaigning this July to get Vermonters to walk to the the grocery store in pursuit of sustainability throughout the state. They're not the only ones who are working to change the way Vermonters shop.

Walk to Shop

The Walk to Shop initiative started in 2021, with initial funding provided by the Vermont Agency of Transportation's 2020 Mobility and Transportation Innovation Grant, according to Net Zero Vermont. Walk To Shop is working to show that many people live close to grocery stores and want to raise awareness and make walking to shop a possibility through their grocery trollies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that10 billion miles are driven each year in the United States for trips under a mile. Debra Sachs, the executive director of Net Zero Vermont, knows this can change, at least on a local level.

"How do we equip residents, people living in Vermont, with the tool they need to walk instead for that short trip?" Sachs said. "How many short trips can we replace by making it a walking trip with a trolley?"

The program sells two versions of trollies, a medium-sized trolley for $40 with a 40 pound capacity, and a larger size for $50 that can handle 50 pounds. The trollies are designed to help carry groceries and remind people that Vermont communities can be walkable.

The trollies encourage people to walk because even if you live close to a grocery store, lugging heavy bags is a roadblock that stops people from walking. The trollies eliminate this, according to Stu Lindsay, one of the program coordinators for Walk to Shop.

"Anybody who uses it continues to use it," Lindsay said.

Walk to Shop partners with the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, Vermont Clean Cities Coalition, UVM Transportation Research Center, and Northern Tier Center for Health, or NOTCH, to spread their initiative around Vermont, according to Sachs.

A Social Grocery

Northern Tier living uses Walk to Shop's trollies in their own grocery store, a unique "Social Grocery."

In 2020, the Vista Market in Richford announced it would be closing its doors. If it had closed, the nearest point of food access would be 10 miles away and would turn the community into a food desert, according to NOTCH. A food desert is a place where healthy food is hard to access, according to the University of Nevada.

Northern Tier Center for Health saw an opportunity to transform the store into something that would work to serve the needs of the community, something they call a "Social Grocery." The store, now called Main Street Market, offers transportation services to those who need it, as well as free nutrition classes, programs and jobs for the community, according to NOTCH. The store is open 7 days a week, according to the Main Street Market website.

The Main Street Market in Richford holds weekly classes for the community. This Friday, the market is hosting a Social Grocery Project Demo Day from 4-6 p.m. at the market.

Looking Ahead

Walk to Shop is looking to more Vermont communities as the initiative progresses.

"We have a small grant through Chittenden County Region Planning Commission to look at exploring more pedestrian approach to transportation and meeting people's need," Lindsay said.

The Walk to Shop program is holding pop-up events every Saturday and Sunday for the rest of July as well as Aug. 14 and 23, according to Net Zero Vermont's website. This Saturday, they will be at the Burlington Farmer's Market, and the group will be traveling around Vermont communities on future dates spreading their sustainable mission through bright green trollies.

Kate O'Farrell is a reporter for the Burlington Free Press. You can contact her at KOFarrell@freepressmedia.com.

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Walk to Shop is aiming to prove the walkability of Vermont communities